Shortly before the wine world descended upon Bordeaux in the spring of 2015, The Wine Advocate himself, Robert Parker, announced that he would be retiring from traveling to Bordeaux each spring to attend the En Primeur tastings. He also announced that he had chosen longtime Wine Journal blogger and TWA contributor Neal Martin to replace him each spring in Bordeaux. We applauded this decision as here at TWH we have a great amount of respect for Mr. Martin, his professionalism, and his integrity.
With that news in the air just a few days prior to my landing at Merignac, you can imagine all the questions. “What do you think about Ro-Bear Par-Care’s retirement?” “Do Americans trust Neal Martin?” “How will this impact Americans’ perception of Bordeaux?” Those were just a few. The most poignant conversation I had about it came at lunch somewhere in the middle of the crazy week of Primeurs. After fending off the familiar string of questions, I got this one, “Who will replace Parker in the eyes of Americans now that he has retired?” Hmmm. That’s a good one. The answer was simply, “No one.”
Parker had excellent timing. In the late 1970’s, he was a lawyer who greatly admired consumer advocate Ralph Nader. He had a taste for French wine and arrived on the scene when NO ONE was serving the consumer in regard to the quality of the wines from Bordeaux being offered as futures. The rest is history and that ship has sailed. Anyone thinking that they can be “The next Robert Parker” needs to come to grip with some key facts, as in time does not stand still, and we evolve. Parker doesn’t need replacing. His legacy leaves us all with an improved ability to articulate what we sense when tasting, and more importantly, most Bordeaux producers are now making much better wine than they did prior to Parker’s arrival on the scene. It’s up to professionals across the board, especially those of us who come into direct contact with consumers. Sommeliers and retailers can provide some of the best direction because we forge relationships with our clientele, and in knowing an individual’s likes and dislikes, can provide better advice than the often-misused 100 point scale.
Of course, in addition to Parker’s legacy, which played a role in this, is the fact that American wine consumers are more experienced, more knowledgeable, and more trusting in their own perceptions than to blindly trade their money for Parker points (or anyone’s points for that matter) anymore. Just like anything else, there will be people new to the arena, and especially with wine, lack of experience can be very intimidating. We remind those new to wine that it is a beverage created to promote joy and to complement our meals. We encourage new wine drinkers to stay within their budgets and discover their likes and dislikes. What any wine critic/advisor has to say about a wine that you like means nothing. You like it, that’s all that matters. In fact, if you like a wine and a critic publishes something negative about it, you win, as the wine is more likely to be available and not in danger of going up in price.
The American wine consumer has come a long way in the past 40 years. Regardless of any personal feelings or biases, Robert Parker deserves a great amount of recognition for his contribution to that. In this technological age of blogs, apps, and social media, it seems there will always be a forum for anyone to express their perception of what they taste. Professional bloggers and wine journalists will continue to publish tasting notes, for a price. They work very hard, and their experience and knowledge of the subject is well recognized. Many Americans, ourselves included, listen to some of the more objective tasting notes from these folks, yet we tend to treat them more as advice rather than gospel. And that is a sure sign that American wine consumers are more sophisticated than we were 40 years ago. It is yet another rite of passage; just like leaving home, finishing school, and going out into the world, we’re now on our own. I am grateful to Mr. Parker for his legacy as a consumer advocate, and I am also grateful for his decision to retire and leave the rest to us. Again, “Who will replace Robert Parker in the eyes of Americans?” No one. – Peter Zavialoff